During the Annual Conference we announce that year’s recipient of the Mazzone Award. The prestigious Mazzone Award recognizes the exemplary service of procurement officials to the public purchasing profession. Today we are catching up with Norma Hall, the 2019 Mazzone Award winner who discusses her career accomplishments and the importance of certification and giving back to the public procurement community. Her passion for public procurement was palpable throughout our interview and incredibly inspiring.
Norma Hall’s career in public procurement is the very definition of exemplary service to the state of South Carolina. A NASPO member for 15 years, Norma has served on numerous boards and committees for almost every public procurement association. Norma is a multi-award-winning procurement professional with a dedicated mission of giving back to the profession that she cares for so much.
NASPO STAFF: Norma, you have been an active member of NASPO since 2004 and are still engaged today. How has NASPO evolved since you joined our membership?
NORMA HALL: Since 2004 the biggest changes that I think have happened in NASPO are their focus on educational opportunities for its membership. They have really gone to great lengths to improve that and I think they are going in the right direction with Procurement U. Also, the collegial partnerships that we have now with certain universities are outstanding – I think that’s going to promote the profession in a very valuable way. It’s going to bring validity to the training that we offer and help market public procurement where it has never been marketed before.
NASPO STAFF: You’ve done and accomplished so much. What career accomplishments are you most proud of?
NORMA HALL: I really think that certification is one of the things that I am most proud of and I think that helped launch me into my procurement career. It got me excited about procurement – not just being a job – but as a career. Being able to take that knowledge and learn from it and make any organization that I work for better and make sure that things were being done in accordance with the law. Some of the others were, and I do want to promote the state of South Carolina, because every job opportunity I had was in the state and I did work for five different state agencies – it was a learning experience. I took the basic procurement knowledge I had and applied it to the environment I was in at the time. Every environment was different. One was a teaching hospital, one was a university, one was a marine research operation – and then going to the department of transportation.
NASPO STAFF: What is the biggest factor that has helped you be successful in your career?
NORMA HALL: Get involved in learning more about your job and do not be afraid to give back – particularly through professional associations. One of the best things you can do is to get to know your peers whether it be in the same state as you or across the country. Once you make those contacts its so easy to pick up the phone and call someone and have a listening ear.
NASPO STAFF: What new public procurement trend are you most excited about and why?
NORMA HALL: I think the trends that are happening right now in the Information Technology sector are fantastic. Actually, I was just reading an article today about blockchain and how much that will help government in the very near future and different states that are looking into blockchain – not only here in the United States but also other countries are now using blockchain for different types of information technology needs. I think that’s really the wave of the future and where we are going so we can collect data that’s non-corruptible.
NASPO STAFF: What is one change that you would tell public procurement professionals to make right now to advance their careers?
NORMA HALL: Get engaged in learning as much as you possibly can. You never stop learning in procurement. Just like when I went to the 2019 NASPO State Training Coordinators Conference, there were things that I learned there that were that “ah-hah” moment or that I got excited about. It gets you excited about what you’re doing.
The next step after that would be to seek certification. I know that the CPPB and CPPO certifications through UPPCC have really helped launch so many careers and helped them to succeed and to better position themselves in the procurement profession.
NORMA HALL: The number one thing is to know what is in it for the other party that you’re contracting with. What are their major wants? What is it that they want to get out of the relationship? When you understand what they want to get out of the relationship it puts you in a better negotiating position. Know where your make or break point is, know the other party and what it is that they want through the business relationship.
The second thing is to always know what you must have, what would be nice to have and know when to walk away from a negotiation. Go for the things that are easy wins first and then get into the more complicated negotiations. Know what you are willing to compromise and know your limitations.
The last thing is to be cognizant of body language and don’t give information away through negative body language. Read the other person’s body language and be in control of what you may be telling through any body language that you’re using.
NASPO STAFF: What was the most interesting procurement project you worked on during your career? What made it so interesting?
NORMA HALL: Well the most interesting one was when I was at the wildlife marine resources department and it was a 110-foot oil tanker that was offshore in Louisiana. We needed a ship for marine research so our captains and our boat crews would go around and look at different vessels and see what the primary things they wanted on that vessel. When the bids came in, we ended up with this oil taker that was in Alabama. After the contract was awarded, I had to deliver the check to Alabama at the time that we got the ship. So that was a process in itself to get the state to release the funds so we could take them with us down there to actually pick up the ship. Our boat crew and I went down there, and the boat crew was then able to sail the boat back home to South Carolina.
That didn’t complete the project, we also had to outfit it as a research vessel. That meant completely restructuring everything on the inside of the ship for use as a research vessel. It was difficult to find the right contractors to do that work because it was a lot of specialized projects. The ship sat right outside my window where I worked on James Island so I could watch the progress and go on the ship at any time and see how they were doing on the build and make sure everything was going according to plan. It took us almost a year to get that completed but it was wonderful. And after it was completed, I got to go on that ship, in fact I went out with them and did some diving… It was a unique procurement.
NASPO STAFF: Norma, you have taken both the CPPO and CPPB examinations. Do you have any advice or study tips for members who haven’t taken the exams yet? What would you say to members who are on the fence about getting certified?
NORMA HALL: One [tip] is to really study materials and to look at what the basic standards are in public procurement. All that starts with the ABA Model Procurement Code. I’d also say that on the UPPCC website there is a job knowledge specification that tell you what aspects you need to know for each domain area that’s covered in the certification exam. Focus on the domain areas that you are weakest in – that’s where you need to study the hardest. Another tip: if you know other people that are getting ready to take their certification exam make a study group! Or take a certification review class. A review course is absolutely going to benefit anyone that wants to take the exam the last thing is– don’t get nervous. Go in feeling positive about it and remind yourself that you studied adequately. Know that you have mastered what the different domain areas are and the job knowledge requirements that are under each one of those domains.
NASPO STAFF: Norma, you have been active in almost every major public procurement association in the country. You were a founding member of National Council for Public Procurement and Contracting, a former president and board member of NIGP, and have been both a member and a chair of the UPPCC Governing Board. What does taking a leadership position in an association mean to you?
NORMA HALL: It means that I can give back to what so many people have given to me. There are so many people and so many things in organizations that have helped me grow and helped me to become the person I have in the profession and I want to be able to give back a little bit of that.
NASPO STAFF: Norma, your LinkedIn profile right now says that you are retired. What are you up to now?
NORMA HALL: Well I’m retired from state government, but I have not fully retired. Someone said, “are you ever going to quit?” My answer to that is “no”! I do some consulting and I’m very active in procurement associations because I still want to be able to learn. I am also starting a nursing staffing company with a good friend of mine in South Carolina. So, I am pretty busy!